Public debate on HPV immunization in Serbian Parliament
Serbia will begin offering HPV immunization to 12-year old boys and girls across the country in 2017. This was announced on 14 December 2016 by State Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr Berislav Vekic, during a public debate in Parliament on the role and importance of immunization against human papillomavirus (HPV). The State Secretary stressed the Government’s commitment to drastically reduce morbidity and mortality of HPV-related diseases, including cervical cancer. In addition to vaccination, screening programmes will remain in focus to ensure both primary and secondary prevention.
Recent global estimates suggest that cervical cancer caused by HPV poses a significant burden on public health in Serbia. According to the Institute of Public Health of Serbia, about 1250 women are diagnosed and 470 die from cervical cancer each year.
Upon invitation by the Parliamentary Committee for Health and Family, WHO Representative in Serbia, Dr Zsofia Pusztai, participated in the public debate to help raise awareness on the importance of prevention of cervical cancer and other HPV diseases through immunization.
Dr Pusztai reminded participants of WHO recommendations to introduce HPV vaccine for girls aged 9-13 years, prior to their sexual debut. She emphasized that all HPV vaccines have had good safety profiles demonstrated through clinical trials and continuous monitoring of the millions of doses administered to date. At its latest meeting in January 2016, the WHO Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety (GAVCS) concluded that it has not found any safety issue that would alter its recommendations for the use of the HPV vaccine. Dr Pusztai used the opportunity to inform participants that WHO/Europe is developing a support package on HPV communication for countries that plan to introduce HPV vaccination, which will include guidelines, leaflets and videos that can be adapted for use in Serbia.
Concerted efforts in Serbia
The public debate was part of a campaign to unite all stakeholders in Serbia in the fight against cervical cancer. The event brought together representatives from state institutions, health sector, civil society and various professional organizations and associations.